From behind the dust covered curtains of the Trahison Elpine Theater, Lunette could hear it all. Every murmured conversation, pluck of a harp, or squeal from a flute graced her ears. Such sounds only helped her imagine the scene that was occurring in the audience just a few feet away. In her mind she could see guests skimming over the phamplettes featuring the night’s show, La Dame Dans Le Jardin, grasped between gloved fingers. By the end of the night, they’d each have their own reactions to her performance. Yet the only opinion she cared about was Emeline’s.
Lunette glanced around to see the remaining performers filing onto the stage around her, ladies adorned in crowns of roses and hygendreas. They were to play the garden nymphs, and wore loose white dresses that whisked against the floor and bracelets of soft flower petals. Their hair spilled over their shoulders, and their smiles were as delicate as their movements. Yet even though each of them were charming, they would stay in the background. They were only there to serve as a sort of halo around Lunette, the night’s leading actress.
The woman’s dress was of a soft blue dotted with pink bows. A sash of the same shade cinched her waist, and the sleeves that stopped above her wrists ended in lace. The back of the dress collected in a bustle that dripped onto the floorboards. Her dark tresses were piled atop her head to form an elegant bun, which only brought out the slender shape of her face and the curvature of her cheeks.
Though she wouldn’t admit it, she did feel trepidation in her heart. The Trahison Elpine Theater hadn’t seen a full house in months. Her performance could bolster or shatter her very future, and those facts did nothing to placate her nerves.
The curtains before her quivered, then pulled up sharply into the darkness of the rafters. A backdrop of a spring garden took form from behind. Lunette stepped forward as the orchestra chased off the hushed quiet that had descended upon the theater. Guests deposited their programmes and trained their opera glasses upon her. Their stares made her veins thrum and heart pump; this flood of anxiety wasn’t unnatural. It happened before every performance. She scanned the crowd for her remedy.
She spotted Emeline in her normal place in the fourth row, the sixth out of twenty seats in the line. The seat was envied by all theatergoers, as it offered the perfect view of the stage without straining one’s eyes or neck. Ever since Lunette’s first performance, she had been certain to reserve that seat for Emmeline. So there the woman had sat, witnessing all of the Trahison Theater’s productions from the most prized area in the house.
Emmeline met her gaze, and the tenderness she saw in her eyes instantly soothed the apprehension in Lunette’s heart. The smile she now wore wasn’t entirely scripted.
The music picked up and she found herself melting straight into it. Her feet carried her across the stage as the dancers twirled around her. One of those dancers handed her a solitary rose, and she twirled it in her fingers, as rehearsed. She crossed over to a marble bench and settled upon it, dress draping off the side, one delicate shoulder slightly slung backward. The power in her voice and beauty in the lyrics was enough to entice all who listened.
“Once I made a prayer that a man would treat me fair,
And though I barely know him, I can feel it in the air.
He makes my heart start, oh I can’t bear to be apart
This feeling is sending me reeling, but it just might be healing
Me right to the core.”
The notes wavered and slowly extinguished. She held the rose to her chest and turned to the right, yet paused as a finger hooked under her chin and tilted her head up. She blinked at the man that stood before her, dressed in a suit of white with his bronze hair slicked back. He took both of her hands and squeezed them gently.
“Why, I didn’t know I was held to such a high standard in your heart.” When the man spoke it was melodic yet powerful. Lunette was certain he held the attention of nearly all the females in the theater.
She ducked her head at his comment and blushed; the rogue on her cheeks amplified it. “Hello, Hector. I-I wasn’t aware you were standing there.”
“I’m glad I was. I have a notion that you wouldn’t have told me of your feelings otherwise.”
Lunette turned back to him as he chuckled. “That is true.” Her smile dissolved and she abruptly pulled her hands from his. “But what does it matter? You’re to be married tomorrow, to my dearest friend. I cannot betray her.”
As Lunette expected, a gasp rose from the crowd. The twist was cliche, yet it seemed no one could turn away from a love story full of anguish.
“That is quite the predicament...I suppose it does not help that I feel the same way toward you?” He moved closer. “I love you, Lea.”
Lunette shifted her head toward the floor yet glanced at the enrapt crowd, toward Emmeline. She readied herself to say the next line, yet stalled as she noticed something. A man was sitting next to Emmeline. Their fingers were laced together and their lips were moving, heads bent away from what was transpiring on the stage. She had never seen that man before; perhaps he was a cousin or close friend of Emmeline’s?
Lunette turned back toward Hector, glad that her pause only made the situation between them more dramatic. Their lips met and the music swelled. Lunette closed her eyes and forced herself to pay attention. She had a show to complete tonight. She couldn’t let her roving mind distract her.
The scenes came and went, along with wardrobe changes and quick touch ups of her makeup within the wings. Soon enough, the second act came to a close. The love story of Hector and Lea changed course. Hector’s betrothed, Prudence, found out about the feelings Lea had for Hector. At first she felt sympathy for Lea, but as she learned Hector loved Lea and not her, the sympathy turned to envy. She went through with the wedding, yet handed her husband a glass of wine sprinkled with poison the night of. Knowing the poison would take a full twenty four hours to engage, and also knowing that Hector would slip out to Lea’s garden to see her, Prudence followed him and waited. She witnessed her husband embracing Lea, then just as quickly pulling away and falling at her feet. Prudence slipped away into the night, leaving little trace of her crime and a helpless and sobbing Lea at Hector’s side. The show ended with a tearful reprise of the beginning song, the one she had first sang to Hector without even realizing it.
Lunette stayed hunched over the man as the familiar sound of roaring applause and hollering swept the theater. The curtains closed in front of her, yet Lunette could envision the audience standing up in ovation. She rose from the floor and took her costar’s hand. The two stepped forward as the curtains reopened. Lunette waved and bowed. Her eyes went straight to Emmeline, or rather, an empty chair. She masked the surprise on her face with a gracious smile toward the public, yet it fell as the curtains closed for the final time.
After minutes of exchanging praise with fellow actors on a night well run, Lunette found herself opening the door to her dressing room. Her eyes took in the familiar sight of flowers populating her makeup desk and side table, abundant as always. She peeled off her gloves and made her way over to them. She was always grateful to receive such lovely gifts; they reassured her that she had pleased the audience. Though the only bouquet that would truly ease her mind would be Emmeline’s.
She examined each tag, searching for the false initials K.H. and the scrunched script that Emmeline always signed with, different than her usual looped and perfected signature. Fake initials would keep possible prying eyes and wondering minds away. Yet after minutes of searching, she found only unfamiliar handwriting from other devoted fans, and though their loyalty did make her smile, it spurred her heartbeat. Another search was fruitless. Where was Emmeline’s? She turned around in her seat as the door clicked open, expecting to see the flower boy delivering another batch of roses. Instead, she saw Emmeline.
Lunette stood quickly, a sense of elation overcoming her panic. She was halfway across the room when she stopped, noticing a hand that gripped Emmeline’s shoulder. Her eyes moved from the hand to the arm, then up to the face. She vaguely recalled the man standing there as the one she had spotted with Emmeline in the crowd earlier.
Lunette blinked at him but smiled politely.
“We apologize for bursting in without announcing ourselves first,” Emmeline said. “Thomas wanted to congratulate you on your performance in person.” She glanced to the man behind her, who stood a head taller and wore a confident, gleaming smile.
“It was quite the spectacle. You truly know how to captivate an audience,” said Thomas. “I was glad that Emmeline convinced me to see your play tonight. I obviously would have missed out otherwise.”
Lunette paused, thinking of when she had spotted Thomas and Emmeline turned away completely from the show. Had she really captivated him? She smiled anyway. “That’s very kind of you, Thomas. I appreciate your praise.”
There was a moment of silence, wherein Emmeline shifted away from Thomas. “If you don’t mind, Lunette, I’d like to speak with you.”
“Of course.” Lunette smiled and turned to Thomas. “It was such a pleasure meeting you. Perhaps I’ll see you at another one of my shows?”
“Certainly! It would be an honor,” Thomas replied. He bent to Emmeline and they exchanged something Lunette couldn’t quite hear. Then with a tilt of his hat toward Lunette, he departed.
Lunette met Emmeline’s gaze, or, she at least tried to. The woman’s eyes were on everything but Lunette; the gilded mirror, the fleur-dis-lis wallpaper, the carpet. Something shrouded her as well, an emotion she couldn't quite place. No smile haunted her lips, and she wasn't speaking in her usual, lilted tone that could always ease Lunette’s mind. In fact, Emmeline wasn't speaking at all.
Lunette stepped forward. “I’m glad you came tonight, as always. Whenever I see you in the crowd it's enough to carry me throughout the show.”
Emmeline flicked her gaze up, finally meeting Lunette’s. What she saw there was immense anguish. It was enough to slice straight into Lunette’s heart.
“Darling, what's wrong?” Lunette cupped her cheek, alarmed to find tears there. “I know the ending to the play was rather sad, but it's hardly anything to bawl over!” Her laughter expired quickly. “Did Thomas do ill to you? I’ll chase him down and beat him myself if—”
“No, Lunette. No.” Emmeline reached up and took the other woman’s hands. “He hasn't done anything terrible to me. In fact, he’s done the opposite, really…Lunette?”
Lunette felt only slightly ashamed that she had stopped listening. Her eyes had traveled around Emmeline’s face as she had spoke, taking in the girl’s delicate cheekbones and soft brown eyes. Lunette dropped her gaze to take in the woman’s dress, which was the color of the underside of a rose petal. The dress had no sleeves, leaving her arms bare, and her light brown hair was swept up and piled on her hair. A few locks had broken free and curled against her pale skin.
Lunette was used to being distracted by her beauty, and was never one to complain about doing so. She had been losing herself in Emmeline for nearly two years. In that time, she had witnessed the variety of the woman’s smiles, from a curved smirk to a broad grin. She had seen her laugh without abandon to hurriedly smothering a chuckle behind a gloved hand. She had seen her in elegant garb and in her nightwear. Yet still, there were parts to Emmeline that she hasn't witnessed yet, and that both intimidated and fascinated her. So that's why, when she grabbed the woman’s hands, she wasn't immediately put off by their stiffness. She traced her thumb along one of Emmeline's slender fingers and smiled.
“It seems a miracle that I was able to meet someone like you...I almost feel a bit guilty, knowing that there's plenty of men out there, desperately craving your attention.”
“But then I realize that I shouldn't feel that way.” Lunette smiled. “For I have you all to myself, and I should be happy enough knowing how fortunate I am, and that—” Her words halted. Her thumb had bumped against something on Emmeline’s finger. Something cold. Metallic. She glanced down. A ring sat there, reflecting the candlelight.
She dropped Emmeline’s hands. She shook her head, eyebrows moving together in confusion. Sheer panic and agony moved her limbs until she stumbled into the vanity. She managed to locate a chair and sit down. Her mind whirled.
“I didn’t want to tell you earlier. I wanted you to make the most out of your performance...”
It felt as if someone had clamped their hands against Lunette’s ears; she could hardly hear the woman. She was only capable of feeling. Tears slid down her face as her heart cleaved. She sunk her nails into her palms to stop the shaking.
Lunette glanced up to the mirror as Emmeline approached.
“I couldn’t keep lying to myself,” she said. She laid a hand on Lunette’s shoulder. The movement was terribly awkward, so unlike all the gestures they had shared throughout the years. “I...it’s not natural. We’re not natural, together. This marriage will cure me, I know it will.”
Lunette said nothing.
“Thomas is a kind man. He will treat me well—”
Lunette whirled around and wrapped her arms around the woman’s waist, desperately bringing her closer. She buried her head into the woman’s dress and trembled with each sob. Her tears quickly stained the fabric. “I can treat you well. Just let me.”
Lunette could feel the woman flinch beneath her. She could feel her hesitation, could feel her hands just an inch or so above her back, debating on comforting her.
“I talked to a specialist. He was very nice. He wants to talk to you too, Lunette. He thinks he can help you.”
“I don’t need help,” came the woman’s muffled reply.
Lunette blinked away her tears as she felt Emmeline gripping her arms, pulling away to look at her in the face. “Do you know what happens to people like us? People like you? At best, they’ll exile us. Or taunt us. They’ll haunt us in the streets. At worst, they’ll lock us up, try to...correct us.” Her voice trembled. Lunette realized with horror that she had earlier mistaken the anguish in Emmeline’s eyes with fear. The woman was terrified.
Not only for Lunette, but for herself.
“We’ve been lucky, Lunette. We’ve kept this...thing secret. But how long? How long will it take until others find out?”
Lunette reached up to cradle the woman’s cheeks again. “They don’t have to find out. We’ll do as before. We’ll be safer.”
“‘We’ll do as before?’ We’ll meet in secret, write to each other in secret, hiding this from others? What happens when my mother wants grandchildren? At least Thomas can provide me that.” She shook her head. “I can’t live my entire life in secrecy. I won’t.”
“What if we run away?” Lunette stood, ignoring her unsteady legs. “We can leave, now.” She glanced about the room, toward the closet, then to the jewelry box sitting on the desk. “I have nothing to put my belongings in, but that hardly matters. I’ll have you.”
“I know I look a mess, but I doubt anyone’s in the hall anymore. We won’t have to answer any questions.”
“I know of a place...Sherfield, I think. It’s small, nothing like Bellmore. But...it will do. It’s only a few hours away. If we leave now, we can make it by early morning. Just let me find my—”
“I am not going away with you.”
Lunette turned around. The frustration in Emmeline’s tone was alien. She had never heard her speak as such before.
“I’ve given you my reasons,” Emmeline stated. She turned away.
Lunette edged behind her, but before she could reach out to her, Emmeline swung back around.
“You think this is hard for you?” Her voice was just above a whisper, but it leaked irritation all the same. “Imagine, Lunette. Just imagine the pain that I’m experiencing!”
The ire on Emmeline’s face was enough to send Lunette skittering backward. She stumbled and reached out blindly for purchase. Instead, her hand knocked into a vase. It teetered briefly before shattering against the ground.
Lunette kneeled down, ignoring the shards that sliced her fingers as she scrambled to pick them up. The effort was fruitless; her hands were trembling too much.
The door burst open, and through the watery film of her tears she could see a figure filling the threshold.
“Is everything alright in here?”
“Everything is fine, Thomas. Lunette is just feeling ill at the moment.”
Lunette blinked at the man as he crossed over to Emmeline, then down at her hands. The pain was becoming difficult to push aside. Yet she couldn’t pay it any attention. That man was putting his arm around Emmeline—her Emmeline, and was escorting her to the door.
She stood up quickly.
“We’ll be sure to send a doctor in shortly,” Thomas said. He paused, and though they were feet away Lunette could see the discomfort in his eyes as he glanced her over. He pulled his fiance closer to him. “Perhaps you should sit down? You look as if you could faint…”
Lunette closed the distance and had gripped the man’s arm before he could protest. “Promise me,” she managed to choke out, their faces mere inches away. “Promise me you’ll take care of her. Provide to her whatever she wishes. Make sure she is happy.”
The man blinked, then hesitated. “Of...of course! But why would you…” He trailed off, then glanced to Emmeline, then back again to Lunette. His eyes widened, first with fear, then with disgusted realization. “This is repulsive!”
Lunette could feel the heat on her cheeks, a mix of anger and embarrassment. She ducked her head. The secret she had been masking for years had finally slipped out. It was only in front of one soul, but that would soon change. Like Emmeline had warned, word would circulate. Her name would be tainted, her career too.
Lunette glanced back to see Thomas quite literally shielding Emmeline. One hand grasped his fiance’s as he stood protectively before her, the other held out to Lunette as if he was warding off a beast. One part of Lunette found it bitterly amusing. The other found it humiliating.
“Did she do anything to you, dear? E-embrace you, an—” He stalled as Emmeline turned away. Her shoulders shuddered.
Lunette took a step forward as Thomas moved back. It was maddening, seeing Emmeline so dismayed, and not being able to aid her.
“She’s crying, the poor thing…” He shook his head, revulsion once again shaping his features. He moved out to the hallway, gingerly moving Emmeline ahead of him. “Don’t think of following us.”
“C-could I at least be allowed to see her?” The words just slipped out, and she felt a brief amount of panic in the silence that followed.
“You’re a delirious, demented woman,” Thomas finally said. “I only hope you receive the help you deserve.”
Thomas was out the door within seconds, Emmeline on his arm.
Lunette rushed forward, quivering hand on the door handle. “Emmeline!”
Thomas continued to walk away, toting a silent Emmeline along with him.
It took the second desperate cry of her name for Emmeline to pause. She stopped, halfway down the hallway, and met Lunette’s gaze.
“Please. Don’t go.”
Emmeline wavered. She glanced up to Thomas, who was holding her in a vice, seemingly afraid she’d be whisked away if he let go. And how badly Lunette wanted to whisk her away. But she knew she couldn’t. Even from where she was standing, she could see the resolve in Emmeline’s gaze. She had made her decision. There was no bargaining with her. Such a reality should have ended Lunette’s objections, her suffering. Why should she pine after a woman who scorned her own affections? But her cold rejection only made the gash in her heart deeper.
Emmeline turned and started walking, this time without Thomas’s help.
Lunette pressed a hand to her mouth to try to silence the cries that tumbled out, but it was useless. Soon enough, the whole hallway was filled with her grief. The sobbing lasted far after she had shared her last glance with Emmeline as the woman rounded the corner. They lasted after she had collapsed, exhausted, to the ground in a heap of tears and underskirts. They lasted until her eyes shut, and then they chased her into her a fitful sleep.